China remained silent about the political outrage over the fall of the powerful Rajapaksa clan, which is thought to be the main backer of Chinese investment in the country, which is now experiencing its worst economic crisis since gaining independence in 1948, during the Sri Lankan crisis that lasted for months. The current chaos in Colombo, according to experts, will “impact” the nation’s close ties and its significant infrastructure investments in the strategically positioned island nation in the Indian Ocean.
While Mahinda Rajapaksa, the elder brother and former prime minister of President Gotabaya Rajapaksa, was initially forced to seek refuge at a naval base amid public outrage, President Gotabaya Rajapaksa fled the country on Wednesday amid violent protests, including the seizure of his official residence by protestors.
According to Lin Minwang, a South Asia expert at Fudan University in Shanghai, “in the short run, there will be a big impact on China’s relations with Sri Lanka because the Rajapaksa family’s influence in Sri Lanka’s political circles will be undermined and a political comeback will be unlikely shortly.”
The foreign debt created by corrupt leaders provides an easy target for political players looking for new supporters as the nation is currently experiencing the biggest financial crisis in recent times.
Mahinda Rajapaksa is well-liked in China for encouraging significant Chinese investments in Sri Lanka, despite India’s security worries and the US’s criticism and caution regarding Beijing’s “debt-trap diplomacy” in the strategically significant nation in the Indian Ocean. While it is evident that the current political turmoil can risk Chinese assets since the issue of Chinese assets is well known by the Sri Lankans and has even sparked protests among the public.
China is said to have kept silent on various issues since Rajapaksa held office. When the Sri Lankan civil war with the Tamil Tigers ended, the President even thanked China for its assistance in the war. Chinese investment in the island nation has increased rapidly as a result of the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI). Another thing to take note of is China’s support of Rajapaksa’s campaign expenses.
At least USD 7.6 million went straight from a majority state-owned Chinese business to Mahinda Rajapaksa’s campaign expenses in 2015. Apart from the Rajapaksas, China has only fragile relationships with other Sri Lankan leaders, making China’s position seem vulnerable.
Beijing is unlikely to take any dramatic actions shortly. The economic crisis in Sri Lanka will unavoidably be its top concern, and regardless of China’s relations with the Rajapaksas, Sri Lanka may turn to that country for assistance.
What do the Chinese have to say about this?
On Tuesday, Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesperson Wang Wenbin responded to a query about the issue in Sri Lanka by saying that China is closely monitoring the events there and urged all sides to come together to settle the situation.
China, a friendly neighbor, and cooperative partner, sincerely hopes that all parties in Sri Lanka will act in the fundamental interests of the nation and its citizens, work together to overcome challenges, and achieve social stability, economic recovery, and improved living conditions as soon as possible, he adds.
Lin Minwang also issued a warning that the Sri Lankan situation would result in losses for Chinese investment.
Although Sri Lanka’s relationship with India has inherent structural problems, Lin Minwang argued that there is no reason to be overly gloomy about China-Sri Lanka relations because Sri Lanka genuinely needs a nation like China as a counterbalance to India.
According to Liu Zongyi, a senior associate with the Shanghai Institutes for International Studies, all other political parties in Sri Lanka have remained favorable contacts for Beijing. According to Liu, China is not favoring any side.